Populism is Dumb & Deceiving

The greatest design challenge humanity has ever faced

I’m filled with despair, frustration, anxiety and even anger at the quickening bubbles of political and social madness, sweeping over us all.

In the time that has passed since the shock of BREXIT and Trump I’m now able to regain some composure to approach things with analysis and reflection. The rise of ‘the extremes’ is turning what was once apathy into action for many of us — perhaps the optimist in me could claim this to be constructive.

Like it or not none of us can afford to be complacent any longer. Its time to wake up, smell the coffee, and get work! The nature of my job requires me to dabble in behavioural psychology, cultural anthropology, economics, and creative culture. In doing so now, I want to present what I see as the greatest design challenge humanity has ever faced; since the time before we could light fire. A subject that is almost hidden from popular view, avoided by politicians and protected by the economic elite — ‘Automation’ (or ‘the rise of the robot’).

In March this year PwC (UK) released their ‘UK Economic Outlook’ with a special focus on ‘the impact of automation on jobs’. In their report, PwC predicts that by the early 2030s, the risk to jobs, as a direct result of automation, will be the loss of 38% of jobs in the United States, 35% of jobs in Germany, 30% of UK jobs and 21% of jobs in Japan.

Thats 1 in 3 jobs, in advanced economies, lost to artificial intelligence / automation in 15 years.

Others have forecasted that by 2020, more than 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human. Thats 85% of our daily commercial transactions with people, reduced to a hideousness iterations of the self-service checkout.

Jobs with a higher female workforce, such as eduction, social care and health are predicted to be more secure than jobs with a higher male workforce, such as manufacturing, construction, transportation, etc. Just take that thought through to its logical conclusion… a huge social flip to the balance of gender employment, while we are still striving to achieve gender equality, this will swing the pendulum in quite the opposite direction. Imagining the changes this will bring about in our social fabric is profound — not least what history tells us about the effect a large population of angry disenfranchised men has on us all.

In preparation for this cataclysmic event, a name has already been created for those of us who fall into the 1 in 3. Coined by Yuval Noah Harari, historian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the rise of automation will, by default, be the rise of the Useless Class.

So in half a generation we are headed for a useless class, consisting of angry disenfranchised men and woman, with a little need to interact with anyone outside of recreation and procreation — who’s only social worth is to consume. Again, to take this thought through to its logical conclusion brings forth radically different ideas of just about every organisation, industry and social system we know of, from education, social security to health, manufacturing, tax, the military, transportation, agriculture and so on.

While this train has left the station, all the energy of politics and popular media is being invested in visions of nostalgia — targeting the passive masses with a backwards perspective on our future. Especially the easy pickings of the blue collar / working classes, desperate after a generation of abandonment and disenfranchisement by globalisation — a repulsively underhand strategy in light of the evidence.

I challenge you to search for the word ‘automation’ in any political manifesto; past, present or future, far-left to far-right and everything in between. If it is there, does it reflect the forecasted impact from automation on us all? How far down on the list does it appear? What comes before it / what’s presented as more important on the political agenda?

Very little political hot air has, or is, being blown in the direction of this very real threat. No intelligent, meaningful debate is actually being had to plan for the very soon to arrive final KO-blow to the blue collar / working classes, or on the second wind attack on the ‘stretched middle’ that will snap it in two.

Immigrants and overseas labour aren’t going to take your job… robots are, but the political left hand is a redundant as the right — either too dumb, confused or at worse complicit. The conversation needs to be extended beyond, and with the aid of, tech gurus, economists, academics, industrialists, and all those invested in tech advancement; down to the man and woman on the street.

Its about time we stop being so stupid as to believe that the prosperity of a foreigner impacts our own welfare, or that immigrants weigh you down, that diversity is destructive, or any other ill-informed popular idea.

With this (and the much wider impacts) in mind I’m confident that we can see just how off-centre the public discussion and social memes are, so we can claim a realistic perspective. Just then, and only then, we will be in control to flip what looks like a destination of dystopias towards the destination of utopias. The destination technology is supposed to afford us all.